Some thoughts on several days of NHL news I missed during my brief sabbatical for my grandmother’s funeral.
San Jose Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl set an NHL record as the youngest player to score four goals in a game during the Sharks recent 9-2 beatdown of the New York Rangers. One of those goals was a trick-shot through his legs which brought back memories of Marek Malik back in ’05-’06, only Malik did his in a shootout, while Hertl did it during regulation play.
It’s expected some veteran observers will poo-poo Hirtl’s goal as disrespectful to the Rangers and to the NHL game. Indeed, Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates said pretty much that in a recent interview.
Yeah, nothing hurts the NHL product more than a nifty trick-shot goal which generates so much buzz it even makes ESPN’s highlight reel and gets fans excited about hockey. Can’t have that, you know! I wonder, however, what Oates opinion would’ve been if, say, Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin made a similar shot?
I believe if the score had been closer, Hirtl wouldn’t have tried to get fancy on his fourth goal. Still, it was an exciting move, the fans loved it, and helped for one day to give the NHL some early season attention at a time when North American sports headlines are dominated by the MLB playoffs and the NFL.
Speaking of the Rangers, what the hell?
Look, everyone expected it would take a bit of time for them to get used to new coach Alain Vigneault and vice versa. Indeed, Vigneault was supposed to be the breath of fresh air this roster needed after stagnating last season under John Tortorella.
While they seemed to right themselves in a 3-1 win over the LA Kings after dropping their season opener to Phoenix 4-1, they were humiliated by the Sharks in one of the most lopsided losses in Blueshirts history.
Perhaps that smackdown by the Sharks is what the Rangers need to snap out of their early season doldrums.
Rangers fans hope so; otherwise, they could get very ugly very quickly.
Meanwhile, in Vancouver, the hell that was supposed to be awaiting the Canucks in their adjustment to the demanding Tortorella has so far failed to materialize.
Instead, the Canucks had three wins in their opening four games, including two come-from-behind victories which has the players singing the praises of Tortorella’s belief in them.
Could it be the Canucks got the better coach after all? Time will tell, but so far, “Torts” is off to a fine start in Vancouver.
In the “What the Hell?…but in a nice way” department, how about those Calgary Flames?
The club everyone and their dog picked to be the worst team in the NHL this season, playing for the first time in a decade without long-time superstars Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff on the roster, has instead vaulted from the gate with 2-0-2 record in their opening four games.
Their victories came over the Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens, while those OT losses came at the hands of the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks.
The rebuilding Flames have given teams supposedly much better than themselves a run for their money.
Now of course, one shouldn’t get too excited over this. It’s very early into a new season, and it’s clear the Flames caught these teams – who were probably expecting an easy two points – by surprise.
Four early regular-season games does not a playoff contender make, but it’s obvious this young Flames team intends to compensate for lack of star talent by out-working everyone they meet.
For a rebuilding club, that’s a good attitude to have going forward.
Yes, former Flyers coach Peter Laviolette had his faults, but I don’t believe he’s the one responsible for the early mess the club finds itself in this season.
It wasn’t Laviolette who has a stunning inability to find quality goaltenders. Yes, I know, “Lavvy” reportedly didn’t have much faith in Sergei Bobrovsky, but he wasn’t the guy who traded “Bob” away, or put his faith in Michael Leighton following a surprising run to the 2010 Cup Final, or signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a ridiculous contract.
Laviolette wasn’t the guy who failed to find a suitable replacement for the now-permanently sidelined Chris Pronger (though to be fair, that’s easier said than done), or overpaid for ageing blueliner Mark Streit.
Laviolette wasn’t the guy who traded away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, only to watch both a year later turn the LA Kings into Stanley Cup Champions and perennial Cup contenders for the next several years.
That, folks, was GM Paul Holmgren, with the blessing of team owner Ed Snider.
I once believed Holmgren was among the better GMs in the league until the summer of 2011, when he traded away Carter and Richards,then blew his budget with Bryzgalov.
While Holmgren’s done well operating with limited cap space, it also hampers him from bringing in the type of players (like a stud goaltender) which helps teams win championships.
Laviolette didn’t forget how to coach in the NHL. He’s done well everywhere he’s gone, including a championship with Carolina in 2006 and taking an underdog Flyers club to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010.
The problem was Holmgren failed to provide him with the right players to remain playoff contenders.
It’s now upon Holmgren to fix the Flyers if they fail to improve under new coach Craig Berube. Given their tight cap space and the now-traditionally slow trade period during the first half of the season, this could prove the biggest test of Holmgren’s management career.
I still maintain my doubts over the Colorado Avalanche’s defense being strong enough to help them reach the playoffs this season, but I cannot deny their improvement in their early season games under new coach Patrick Roy.
The Avs won their opening three games over Anaheim, Nashville and Toronto, scoring 15 goals over the course of those three games, allowing only three, sitting 15th overall in shots-against following their third game.
There’s still a long way to go in this season, and I’m still not convinced a defense corps where Erik Johnson, Jan Hejda and Cory Sarich are your most experienced blueliners can maintain that pace.
Still, Roy’s done a good job getting his team to work harder defensively, which in turn means less work for their goaltending.
If the Avs make playoffs without significantly improving their blueline depth this season, Roy will be my candidate for coach of the year.
When Tomas Vokoun was sidelined three-six months recovering from blood clot surgery, it was widely expected the Pittsburgh Penguins would be forced to shop for a veteran backup.
After all, starter Marc-Andre Fleury struggled in pre-season play, heightening concerns over his confidence and performance, which had eroded the past two seasons.
Fleury quickly silenced those concerns with strong performances in wins against Carolina, Buffalo and New Jersey, the latter a 3-0 shutout victory.
His naysayers will dismiss this by saying he’s yet to face serious competition, but for a goalie said to be having confidence issues, this is the kind of start the Penguins were hoping for.